Things fall apart and Labour cannot hold

The words above, adapted from lines by that great Irish poet W.B. Yeats, sum up the predicament confronting Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour government now in its ninth year.

The most recent tide of public antipathy and disaffection with the Labour Party exemplifies, if more such evidence is really necessary, the folly of political leaders who delude themselves that they are the anointed saviours of their people and would ever remain the idols of the public.

Time and again such delusions have been shattered as they fell from grace into disgrace and been thrown out at the ballot box, where such practices prevail, or in more unsavoury ways.

This has happened in our country and elsewhere. Thankfully Sri Lanka has continued to do so through the democratic process, a fact not too well appreciated or recognised by those outside who would preach to us on democratic rights and freedoms blithely ignoring the mote in their own eyes.

Not that we have been steadfast in our commitment to democracy. We have barely escaped the tragedy that has befallen several African and Latin American states when the jackboots of the military rode roughshod over the people.

Some of us still remember the attempted military coup in 1962 when the country had a close shave with military dictatorship.

Since then, through dangerous political storms the ship of state has managed to stay afloat largely because of a long democratic tradition imprinted on our collective conscience by a colonial administration more benevolent than most have been. Thus the people steeped in this tradition and successive generations that exercised the franchise proved to be a steady hand on the tiller of the ship of state.

Today those who brought us those political traditions continue to practice those lessons but they are getting rather rough round the edges. That is one of the problems confronting the Blair government.

There is rising concern here that rights and freedoms increasingly enjoyed by the people since the Magna Carta, the great charter of 1215 that circumscribed the feudal rights of the monarch. It might have defined the rights of king and church but it was the beginning of the weakening of monarchical absolutism.

By sheer coincidence two letters appeared in The Guardian newspaper last week protesting at what was headlined, "Another assault on our freedoms" on the very day that the same newspaper published the results of a public opinion poll that put the Conservatives four percentage points ahead of Labour, obviously a matter of much concern to the Labour leadership and its parliamentary group, not to mention the rank and file membership.

But this public blow to Labour esteem had to do more with common or garden issues such as education, the national health service that appear to be falling apart and the mess in the Home Office, that monolithic ministry which mistakenly released dangerous convicted criminals who should have been deported and other sorry tales of chaos.

The concerns over eroding freedoms and rights, disaffection over the way the Labour government is managing some of the key issues topped with the daily mess that is Iraq could prove a heady mix that may well lead to Labour losing its current majority in parliament at the next election.

The first letter written by Maya Evans about another protestor Brian Haw whose campaign against the Iraqi invasion has proved to be such an embarrassment to the Blair government, typifies growing feeling here among those who are concerned about preserving the rights, British people have won over the centuries.

It is worthwhile quoting from the two letters as they encapsulate public fears about the erosion of rights, that we ourselves are being urged to uphold in the face of growing security concerns, far more serious than what Britain or any of the western democracies confront.

"Yesterday we again witnessed the underhand behaviour of this state in whipping away our civil liberties. First the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 was rushed through parliament without proper debate and to the surprise of the nation, free protest around Whitehall outlawed. The media and population were shocked when I was prosecuted in December last year for peacefully reading out the names of British soldiers killed in Iraq.

Yesterday, a symbol of democracy and freedom of speech, Brian Haw, had his display removed in the middle of the night; at 2.45am to be precise.

Can we still claim to live in a free state when 50 police officers turn up in the early hours to remove placards, banners and personal possessions of one man whose constant demonstration of the illegal war and mistreatment of Iraqis has proven to be too much of an embarrassment to the government. This is a sad and significant day for this country."

The second letter is about the same issue but brings to light a remark by Tony Blair four years ago.

"Is it time to remind Tony Blair of his statement in 2002?" asks Howard Jackson of Oxford.

Blair said of protestors outside Downing Street his official residence. "I may not like what they call me but I thank God they can. That's called freedom."

Of course it is no longer possible, writes Jackson, to demonstrate outside Downing Street or the House of Parliament without police "approval", showing what a control freak Tony Blair has become.

It might of course, be claimed in mitigation that the suicide bomb attacks in London on 7/7 last year, has led the government to tighten up in various ways, to curb traditional rights and freedoms and rush through laws without proper or adequate public or parliamentary debate, in the name of security.

A constant refrain in his defence of his actions is that he must weigh the rights of individuals against the security of the nation. In such an exercise the balance must shift in favour of the nation and one should be willing to sacrifice or diminish some rights to safeguard the nation and public at large, Blair has argued.

It is indeed a tough choice, one between a rock and a hard place, and most if not all, national leaders have to face such moral choices at one time or another.

What is irksome however and leads to justifiable accusations of double and treble standards is when those who are ready to make that choice to place nation before individual, then turns round and accuses others faced with a similar decision on a far more difficult issue of not respecting human rights and individual freedoms.

No doubt the 7/7 suicide bomb attacks were a horrendous act that nobody believing in civilised values would uphold. Certainly, such attacks targeting innocent civilians should be condemned by all who oppose acts of terrorism and violence.

If a single attack-and as investigations have indicated influenced if not triggered by Iraq- has led to curbs on individual rights and freedoms long enjoyed by the people and have been justified in the name of national security should the same justification be denied by nations that have faced far more attacks?

After all what happened in Northern Ireland and the measures Britain put in place to end secession are too recent and too well known to need resurrection now.

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